Businesses face various challenges and one among them is brought by cultural differences in markets. Consumers of different cultures differ in the way they think and behave. Increased competition in the local markets has also forced businesses to venture in to new markets that have different characteristics from the ones they have been serving. This has brought the need of developing new approaches that will enable the firms to sell effectively to different cultures in the new markets. Much of marketing has focused on values of different cultures and effect of those cultural values on the objectives of the firm. Previous researches show that cultures affect customer’s expectations, evaluation and reaction to goods and services. Some organizations have been successful in using the cultural differences as opportunities, while some have made grievous mistakes in trying to sell to different cultures (Doole & Lowe, 2005)
Theoretical Approaches to cross-cultural marketing
Being that culture affects how businesses carry out their marketing activities, different theories for countering the cultural barriers have been put forward. They include the following: First, there is the classical approach. This is whereby firms that enter markets with different cultures from the ones they were serving seek to adapt their products and marketing strategies to be in line with those new cultures. Here the firm changes its products and services as well as its marketing activities to align them to the new cultural expectations. This includes changing the name or brand of a product or company, changing the language of its advertisements or even pricing strategies (Trompenaars & woolliams, 2003). For example when Toyota was entering the American market, it introduced a brand by the name toyopex. This was not received well by the American consumers due to the connotation, toy and pex. Therefore, the company was forced to withdraw the brand and change the name (Toyota, n.d).
Secondly, there is a standardization approach. In this approach, the firm uses the same strategies in different markets that have varying cultures. Here the firm introduces the same product to different markets using the same promotion strategies, such as the brand name, the language, promotion tools as well as pricing strategies. A good example is coca-cola that has been able to establish its coca-cola brand globally. Therefore, the brand name is the same in all of its markets in the world. There are instances that the firm has used the same advertisement in all of its markets. For instance during the world cup, the company used the same advertisement all over the world (Schumann, 2009).
There is the reconciliation approach, which is also known as the convergence approach. Through this approach, the company tries to reconcile its business practices with the cultural values of the market that it is serving. Firms that believe that they have effective marketing strategies mostly carry this out. Therefore, the use of the approach is driven by the desire to accomplish objectives in the most efficient and cost effective way. As a result, cultural conflict is avoided yet the objectives of the firm are achieved Burton, 2009). For instance McDonalds is known globally for its fast food business, however, when it entered the Chinese market it had to add other foods to its menu such as vegetable soup. This was necessitated by the Chinese culture, which favours traditional foods that have colour and flavour. Therefore, the company did not stop offering fast foods but it only added some cultural aspects to its product offering (China Daily, 2004)
The Impact of culture on the marketing Elements
As businesses seek to serve different markets that apparently have different cultures, they must be able to determine when and how to use the marketing elements. This will enable them to get a positive reception in their areas of operations, as they will not offend the values of those cultures (Phillips, Doole & Lowe, 1994)
. In addition, they will be able to determine what attracts the different markets. As a result, they will profitably satisfy the various customer needs. Therefore, different marketing elements are appropriate for different markets based on their cultural values and beliefs. This is because different cultures perceive those elements differently. The elements of marketing mix include product, promotion, price and place. The use of marketing elements has been affected largely by culture as explained below. (Associated Press, 2007)
Product refers to the physical goods or services offered to customers at a price. Components of the product that are affected by the culture include brand, attributes, quality, labelling or packaging (Foxall, 1981). The extent to which a product conflicts with the norms of a given culture will determine the extent of its adoption by the consumers of that culture. First, there is brand which is used to identify a given product or service. As a result, customers can be able to specify a product, reject or recommend it. Companies serving different cultures can decide to sell its product using different brand names in different markets. This is because some names that are well received in some markets may have offensive meanings in some markets. Therefore, it is important a company find the meaning of its brand name as defined by the locals before using to market its product (Herbig, 1998).
Unilever is one such company that uses different brand names to sell its products. For example, it markets a cleaning liquid, which is known by different brand names in different countries. In Germany, it is called Vis, in Britain and Greece it is know as Jif, while in Switzerland, it is referred to as Vif and in France, it is called Cif. On the other hand, other companies choose to use the same brand across many cultures. This is important for international travellers as they will be able to identify it easily than the local brands. Some of the companies that have successfully used this approach include Toyota, coca-coal, Kodak, Nestle and IBM (Herbig, 1998).
However, there is also a tendency of brand names from different cultures to take a given tend. For instance, car models from the US tend to be named after animals such as Cougar, Mustang as well as Cutlass. On the other hand, those from Japan tend to take after names of girls or pastoral names. They include Violet, Gloria as well as Sunny and Bluebird. Some brands have however failed in some markets due to cultural connotations. For instance, coca-cola had to rename its diet coke to coke Lite, because in France the term ‘diet’ is associated with poor health. In Japan, the company changed the name Diet coke to Coke light. This was because the term ‘diet ‘in Japan refers to sickness and the Japanese women would not like to associated with dieting (Herbig, 1998).
Packaging is another aspect of the product that is affected by culture. The Japanese for instance lay more emphasis in how a product is package d and its overall appearance. They insist that a product must be wrapped in the right way. As a result, a Japanese consumer may not buy a product that he/she believes has not been wrapped properly. This is because most of them associate poor packaging with low quality. To them the standard packaged product is one that is wrapped in three layers (Herbig, 1998). This is opposed to perceptions in the Kenyan market, whereby quality is associated to the manufacture’s country of origin. Therefore, a product manufacture in the US in deemed to be of high quality even if the packaging is poor. Therefore, it is evident that culture has a big impact on the presentation of a product. Hence, a company should carefully consider the impact of a brand and its packaging before taking it to the consumers (Burton, 2009).
Promotion refers to ways in which the seller communicates with his customers about his products. A firm in carrying out its promotion can use various promotional tools. These include advertisement, personal selling, direct marketing and sales promotion. However, the effective use of each of these tools is determined by the cultural values and beliefs of the market that the company serves (Trehan & Trehan, 2009). First, there is advertising. This refers to a paid form of non-personal communication. It is meant to pass information about the organization and/or its products. The organization has to make payment to the firm offering the service. It can be done through newspapers, television, magazines, radio or any other media that can transmit the messages to a large group of people simultaneously (Kurtz & MacKenzie).
Most companies would prefer to use a standardized advertisement. This involves using the same advert across different markets without changing the copy, theme or even the illustration. However, this becomes difficult when such an advert goes against the local mores and regulations. In addition, an item can have different meanings in different cultures therefore; it might not have the same results in different cultures. One aspect of culture that affects advertisements is language. Different cultures have different languages and therefore, another person in a different culture may, not understand what is said in this language. Furthermore, one thing may have different meanings in different cultures. Therefore, an organization must be extremely careful while designing advertisements (Mitchell, 2000).
An organization is deemed to fail if it tries to force a standardized advert on an audience that is unreceptive. For instance, the Japanese market would prefer that the advertisers suggest instead of persuading. In addition, adverts that use comparison are considered as pushy. Therefore, any advertiser that goes against these norms will not succeed in passing his message across. The initial introduction of Cheers detergent in Japan is a good example. It was advertised in a format similar to that, which was successfully used in the US – known as slice-of life. The results were embarrassing as it was rated among the most hated adverts in Japan. The advert was subsequently replaced by an advert, which used a famous Japanese wrestler as its spokes person, which led to improved results (Burton, 2009).
Cultures respond to messages and communications differently. Therefore, advertisers must always address these differences in the advert content and the type of ad (Stonehouse & Campbell, 2004). For instance, Korea is a country that uses more of word-of-mouth advertising. This is because, one is likely to believe a customer’s testimony (who can be a friend or family member) than an advert on a newspaper. This is true of the Chinese culture. Therefore, the adverts tend to play more adverts that involve the family. On the other hand, advertisers may resort to non-verbal adverts due to language barrier. Although, this may seem as an easier way of advertising through cultures that have different languages it is worth noting that different body motions and symbols may carry different meanings in different cultures (Paul, 1966).
For instance, kissing in the western culture is normal and a way of showing affection. However, in most Asian countries such as India, kissing in public is seen as offensive and it should not be viewed in public places like television. Therefore, any television advert that shows people kissing will automatically put off the audience. Personal selling, sales promotion and direct marketing can also be affected by culture. This is because they require the marketer to directly interact with the customers. One such aspect is distance between people during communication. Different societies have what they consider as appropriate distance during conversation. For example in the US five to eight feet is the customary distance during conversations, while eighteen inches to three feet is for personal businesses. People tend to be uneasy when this customary distance is either reduced or extended further. Therefore, it is important that a marketer understand this in order to achieve his objectives effectively (Paul, 1966).
There are also cultural roles and positions that affect the promotional tools mentioned above. Although a handshake is a common form of greeting in business settings all over the world, in Saudi Arabia a woman is not allowed to shake a man’s hand. Therefore, when a marketer secures an appointment for direct marketing in such a country, if he is accompanied by a female he should ensure that no handshake takes place. Otherwise, the other party will be offended. In carrying out sales promotions, the marketer should consider the connotations of colour by the different cultures. For example, most western cultures associate black colour with death. Therefore, if the marketer uses black in communicating hope his campaign might not succeed. Therefore, the marketer must ensure that the colour used is in the same frame of reference as the customer’s (Paul, 1966).
It is therefore evident that culture presents various challenges to businesses. The challenges are also unavoidable as businesses are forced to venture in to new areas due to competition pressures. As a result, various theories have been developed to help businesses achieve their objectives effectively across different cultures. The approaches include the classical, whereby the business tries to change its operations and offerings to fit in to the new culture. There is also the standardization approach, whereby the business seeks to provide the same products using the same strategies across various markets. Lastly, is the reconciliation approach, whereby the firm seeks to reconcile its strategies with the cultural beliefs and values of the firm. Culture affects the various elements of marketing. For instance, in products it determines the brand of the product, its attributes as well as packaging. Culture also affects the promotional tools. For instance in advertisement, it determines the language to be used, the theme, the content of the message and the media to be used. In addition, sales promotion, direct marketing and personal selling are also affected by culture.
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